The Los Robles Children’s Choir will perform with a new artistic director at the helm at this year's annual holiday concert, taking place Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at the Fred Kavli Theater in the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza.
Replacing founding director Donna Young, who recently retired from the non-profit she started in 1997, is Edward Rouse, and he’s been busy infusing new energy into the choir since taking over in August.
“It has been a wonderful transition and I’m amazed at how the children transitioned with me,” said Rouse. "I’m excited because they’re such hardworking kids, it makes what I do a lot of fun.”
With 115 members ages 6-18 divided into four choirs–Apprentice for introductory students, Bel Canto for beginners, Amadeus for advanced singers and Camerata Chamber for advanced high school singers–the audition-only program focuses on classical and traditional folk pieces, often in a variety of languages.
Mere months into his post, Rouse has already introduced another group into the mix, the Amadeus Chamber Singers. “We added it because of the need to do more challenging music that just isn’t possible with a larger group,” he said. “It’s been very successful.”
Other changes include a new lineup for the upcoming "Holiday Wonder" concert, which is set to feature traditional Christmas and Hanukkah songs, such as the classic carol, I Saw Three Ships, in addition to works by famed composers Faure, Vivaldi, Praetorius and Rutter.
“The choir always does Carol of the Bells a cappella,” said Rouse. “Other than that, we’re moving in new directions and enjoying new music.”
Also taking part in the choir’s new direction is Rouse’s wife of 17 years, Dana Rouse. An Agoura Hills native with a Master’s Degree in voice from the Eastman School of Music, Dana has been involved with the LRCC since 2009 and is now the executive director, a role that has Edward referring to her as the “organizational brain” of the choir.
“I really love doing this with her and would not have wanted to take this on without her in the position of executive director,” said Rouse.
Dana also directs the Apprentice and Bel Canto choirs, and it’s under her direction that many new singers have emerged into the program, like Rachel Burak, 9, a Calabasas resident and a fourth grader at Bay Laurel Elementary.
“I prefer singing with a group rather than singing by myself, so the choir is good for me,” Burak said. “Also, the choir is really professional so I can sing at an advanced level.”
The Bel Canto Choir member is now in her second year and hopes to one day make into the Amadeus Choir, something that her father Michael Burak fully supports.
“As a parent, it’s very uplifting, not only to attend practice, but to be driving home and hear her break into song because she’s so inspired after going to rehearsal,” he said. “There’s a lot of activities that children get involved with but I hope this one she’ll stick with and have a lifelong appreciation of music from the Los Robles Children’ Choir.”
Agoura Hills resident Karen Listick was inspired to participate after witnessing how much her children enjoyed choir. Several years after daughters Kate, 12, and Tess, 18, first auditioned, Listick went from assisting as a children’s choir manager to becoming vice president of the board and a member of the Los Robles Master Chorale.
Kate Listick is now in Amadeus Choir, and Tess Listick is in Camerata Choir in addition to attending Moorpark High School. While LRCC members hail from dozens of schools throughout the Conejo Valley, the Listick sisters were introduced while being home schooled.
A lot of home schoolers are a part of the choir, said Karen Listick.
“I was amazed and bowled over at how good they were,” she said. “... the social aspect part of it is great. The kids are really nice and it’s a healthy activity for children.”
Having participated in the LRCC for several years now, Listick knew retired director Young well but said she’s excited to work with the new leadership.
“I miss her personally, she became a good friend of mine, but the Rouses are so great and they care passionately about the choir,” she said. “They want to expand it and make it more well known, which is great because it’s on par with the LA Children’s Choir and other children’s choirs.”
“Donna started with a small group and grew it into four choirs with more than 100 members,” he said. “Dana and Ed brought in so much energy into what was supposed to be a year of rebuilding ... they’re building on the foundation Donna built and expanding it.”
One of Edward Rouse’s main goals for the future of the choir is simply getting the word out that it exists.
“I’m amazed at how few people know about the program and the high quality of it. It’s one of the best kept secrets in the Conejo Valley,” he said. “We don’t want to have that secret anymore. We want everyone to know what hard work these kids do and I’m really excited to be a part of that.”
Tickets for “Holiday Wonder” are $25 for orchestra seating and $20 for mezzanine seating. They can be purchased from the LRCC at the Civic Arts Plaza box office or by calling 805-496-9616, or online through ticketmaster.
For more information and to hear the LRCC members sing, click here.